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Clinton Revives 'New Covenant' Theme: Job Training, Wage Hike

By Ann Devroy and John F. Harris
The Washington Post

President Clinton Tuesday dusted off his dormant "new covenant" campaign theme, promoting a revised government job training program for those seeking work and enlisting Democratic support for increasing the minimum wage for those already working.

Clinton built his 1992 presidential campaign and his appeal to the middle-class around what he called a "new covenant" between government and citizen: Washington would offer more opportunity to all citizens but demand responsibility in return. Clinton returned to that theme Tuesday with a series of actions aimed at rewarding "responsible" citizenship, including a middle-class tax cut, and an effort to lift working-poor Americans into the middle class with a minimum wage hike and with less bureaucratic and more effective job training.

"What I want to do now is spend two years working on lifting incomes and prospects and optimism and real hope for the future among people who are carrying the load in this country," Clinton said in a speech in Galesburg, Ill. He said his proposals could be called "The Bill of Rights and Responsibilities because it doesn't do anything for anybody who's not already doing something for himself or herself."

Clinton argued that the federal government can still be effective "to help expand opportunity, but in a less bureaucratic, less mandatory, more empowering way."

As Clinton spoke, his aides continued to work on the details of the minimum wage package that they argue will offer one of the clearer distinctions this year between Democrats and Republicans. Aides said the president has signed off on proposing an increase in the $4.25 per hour minimum wage, but size of the increase and its phasing-in are still being discussed with congressional Democrats. A senior official said the president hopes to make a specific proposal next week.

The official said the White House is looking at proposing an increase to at least $5.00 per hour, phased in over five years.

The official said Democrats have been "generally receptive" but "fearful about handling the debate" with Republicans over the issue. The outlines of that debate became clear the past several days, as Democrats and Republicans test-marketed their arguments.